By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – A former Morinville resident is hard at work on her first book, a work of non-fiction about her great-great-grandmother’s life as a midwife in post war Italy. Jessica Kluthe, who grew up in the community and still frequently visits family here, recently received a contract for her book from Victoria-based Brindle & Glass Publishing, a Canadian book publisher with a literary focus on works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and drama.
Kluthe said she received the contract for her book, Rosina, the Midwife, a few months ago but had submitted the manuscript to the publisher eight months prior. “I didn’t forget about it, but I did put it out of my mind so I didn’t face disappointment,” she said of the waiting period between submission and acceptance. She was very pleased to receive a contract instead of a rejection letter. “I had done my Master’s [degree] in Victoria, so I really wanted to publish with them. And I knew a lot of really good things about them.”
The author was educated at the University of Alberta with a degree in English and received a Master’s in creative fiction in Victoria. She currently teaches business writing at Grant McEwan and composition at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension. She is active in writing circles and came to Morinville last fall with Edmonton-author and playwright Marty Chan to put on a writer’s workshop on different aspects of the writer’s craft for would-be authors. Kluthe has been putting all of that professional skill to use to complete her book by deadline.
The writer explained the book is as much about the region her ancestor operated in as it is about the work she did for Italian families as a midwife.
“It is about my great-great-grandmother who was a midwife in Italy at the end of the 1800s,” Kluthe explained. “She was from Southern Italy. Most people when they go to Italy, they do that circuit of Rome, Genoa, Milan, and Venice – that kind of thing. But they don’t tend to go to the south because there are not the landmarks and things that people go to see. I went there to do some research for my book and just fell in love with it.”
While Kluthe fell in love with her ancestral home, many of her ancestor’s countrymen left the county in the 1950s for better opportunities.
“In a 10-year period 26 million people left and went to places like Canada, Australia, and the States,” Kluthe said, adding all of her family with the exception of her great-great-grandmother left as part of that migration. “The book kind of starts with trying to figure out what the end of her life was like when she was alone and the rest of her family was here.”
Kluthe said her book then delves into the past, collecting all of the stories the author had heard over the years and accounts of her grandmother’s life from people she spoke to in Italy who had known her. “I sort of pieced together her life story that way,” Kluthe said, adding the predominant focus of the book is on her ancestor’s life at the end of her career in the 1950s.
The author said her research and documenting her great-great-grandmother’s life story gave her great insight into the era. Kluthe said there was only one doctor for three villages located close together. “He couldn’t always get there, so he gave her permission to deliver babies, and also the priest gave her permission to do it,” Kluthe explained. “So he gave her a little bottle of holy water to bless babies when they are born. She didn’t have any formal training but she did have a lot of experience.”
Kluthe said in the 1940s, towards the end of her great-great-grandmother’s career as a midwife, the rules changed and midwives needed to be certified. The author said she found the information interesting given our modern focus on healthcare and how there is some stigma attached to midwives and the idea of home birthing today. “I think she kind of represents that tension,” Kluthe said of her ancestor.
Although Rosina, the Midwife takes place many thousands of miles from Morinville, the author said the book has a bit of Morinville in it, at least in spirit. “I explore the whole idea of small town experience,” Kluthe said. “I see some parallels between the small town experience and the life my ancestors lived growing up in small villages – just the connections between people that happen over generations. All of those things affect people’s relationships and the things people know about you.”
Kluthe said she anticipates having the book completed for her publisher this March. The book is set to come out in the spring of 2013.